Short story: Each July a “secret” big wine tasting in Zurich picks 250 of the absolute “best” wines from 2,000+ top candidates. Medal winning wines receive special marks on the Expovina wine boats. We say: wine ratings are a decent guide… but not for everyone! You get a quick guide to the Expovina best wines of 2018 — both the critics’ and our personal picks.
Jump to the experts’ choices plus OUR favorites and where to find them… or read on:
- Best “modern” International wines + Our favorites
- Best “classic” European wines + Our favorites
- Best Swiss wines (which you don’t know) + Our favorites
- Best “Exotic” wines (Bulgaria, Hungary, Israel)
First thing: Wine ratings – should you believe them or not?
Fancy wine ratings make “normal” drinkers very suspicious.
Wine snobs train hard (yes, it’s hard work) to build skills in swirling, sniffing, swishing and slurping their favorite beverage.
Like any acquired ability, the more you practice, the better you become. You notice and appreciate more fine detail.
The process however leaves most normal wine drinkers somewhat unimpressed.
Recent blind wine tasting studies show that — when price is unknown — normal people prefer less expensive, so-called “crowd-friendly” wines. Trained drinkers recognize and enjoy “critically-acclaimed” wines.
So when we proudly present the medal-winning “best” wines from Zurich’s big annual Expovina event, you understand. The critics’ favorites may not be yours. But still worth a try, eh? That’s the whole point.
Zurich’s “secret” tasting to pick Expovina’s best wines
It’s early July 2018. 150 wine judges descend on Zurich’s Technopark. The crowd contains professional wine people from research to wineries, distributors, shops and restaurants.
Over 4 days they taste and rate 2,050 submitted wines. Ha no, not each person! Each wine tries to impress 5 expert judges.
Naturally the field leans very local. Over 50% of wines come from Switzerland, another 35% from “classic” Europe. Only 6% from overseas. The top 250 wines win coveted Gold Medals. Another 450 receive Silver Medals (not shabby). And up to the best 50% (about another 370 wines) receive an “honorable mention”.
What should you expect from the so-called best wines of 2018? That’s easy: something which stands out to a wine judge. The more you see yourself as a wine judge — and experienced winos certainly do! — the more likely that you’ll appreciate those medals. And the often high prices which accompany them.
Best “modern” International wines + Our favorites
International wines are small category here but popular with expats and ever-more Europeans. Wine’s “New World” includes the United States, Australia, Argentina, Chile, South Africa & New Zealand.
Medals were scattered here and there. But either through plan or luck, the majority of winners float on the same boat:
- Linth boat – over a third of the 61 New World medal-winning wines landed on the Linth (is it still floating?). If you’re unaware that AUSTRALIA makes top-class wine, now you’re informed. Australia specialist Wyhus Ryf shows their strength Down Under with an impressive 12 medals. Virtually all BIG reds – Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon star.
- OUR TIP – LINTH BOAT – are we biased Americans? Zweifel Wein won 5 medals from California, USA — including 2 expensive Zinfandels (but also try the “cheaper” Sebastiani, it’s great!) — and another 2 from Australia. Landolt also wins 3 medals for wines from Napa Valley USA, from Swiss-owned Hess winery.
Best “classic” European wines + Our favorites
Medal winners across central Europe made for a mixed bag. The Deutschschweiz affinity for things Italian flowed through to the awards (171). Meanwhile other wine giants France and Spain earned equal accolades (61-62 each).
The sheer volume of competition among “classic” regions and styles divided the spoils. But here’s where to focus:
- Helvetia boat – for all you Italian wine fans — to taste some medals — hanging out on Helvetia is your best bet. The Vinenzo and Gastrovin stands act as southern specialists. If you like your wines red, rustic and full-bodied, visit Puglia, Calabria, Sardinia and Sicily. Zweifel Wein also tastes a full Italian range on Helvetia including a favorite medaled Valpolicella Ripasso (Tinazzi)
- OUR TIP – LINTH BOAT, upper deck – for all-around solidity, Zweifel Wein won 10 medals between France, Spain and Portugal… not bad! Our favorites include the Henri Bourgeois Sancerre line (Sauvignon Blanc grape) and southern French reds. From Iberia, both Spain and Portugal represent nicely. Includes the Dalva line of Ports.
Best Swiss wines (which you don’t know) + Our favorites
The Swiss winner list runs too long to include them all. The short story: WALLIS (Valais) makes the most of the best Swiss wine. For everybody’s taste. Yes, Swiss people too. Why? A long valley totally protected by the Alps, Wallis sits happily as the warmest, sunniest region in Switzerland. And let me say, the grapes appreciate it!
Wallis’s sunshine and warmth support lots of different grapes and friendlier-drinking styles. Yes, both whites and reds. There’s a long list of very local, unique-to-the-world grapes. Plus international favorites like Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah:
- Helvetia boat, main deck – an astounding 13 medals for Provins, the gigantic Wallis co-operative. They taste all the classic local grapes at multiple price points. Styles are solid, if lacking personal flair. Beware that not much starts under CHF 20.00.
- Helvetia boat – also home to Domaine du Mont d’Or (6 medals) and Fin Bec (4 medals). We don’t have personal experience but I’m sure they’re good.
- OUR TIP – LIMMAT BOAT – like most Americans used to full-blown California wines, we took our time coming around to Swiss wines. Now we highly recommend the family style at Gregor Kuonen (8 medals, richer style) and Adrian & Diego Mathier (7 medals, lighter elegant style). We visited both wineries over the years and make regular stops (and orders!) on the boats. Both taste a huge range. Styles vary so you’re not likely to like everything. But I’ll bet you find a lot of excellent Swiss surprises!
Best “Exotic” wines (Bulgaria, Hungary, Israel)
For world wine watchers, the up-and-coming regions always earn excited attention.
Today’s darlings absolutely include Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
They boast a long (or ancient!) history of quality winemaking. The last century of geopolitics sadly knocked those traditions on their ear. But with new investment, technology and modern know-how, the sky’s the limit for these much deserving “new” wine areas:
- Saturn boat, main deck – BULGARIA – wonderfully surprising 7 medals for Zürich-based online shop BVino. Self-named Switzerland’s largest Bulgarian wine importer and seller. Exotic indeed: lots of grapes no one’s heard of.
- Stadt Rapperswil boat, upper deck – HUNGARY – Once upon a time Europe’s most famous wine came from Hungary, period. A sweet wine, much-heralded Tokaji (Tokay) lost popularity when modern tastes changed. Hundert Weinhaus won 5 medals mostly for those luscious, complex dessert wines. But they also feature a full range of Hungarian white and reds.
- Saturn boat, main deck – ISRAEL – 4 medals for Schmerling’s Israeli selection, including 3 medals in the mega-competitive reds categories for medium- and premium prices (CHF 20.00 – 40.00).
Did you find any award-winning wines particularly great (or no so great) this year? We’d love your comments below!